Youth movement driving Kiwi success
The Kiwis' opportunity to take the official No.1 world rugby league ranking for the first time 20 years after the introduction of the Warriors comes as no surprise to Fox Sports commentator – and founding Warrior – Greg Alexander.
Writing in the Round 9 issue of Big League, Alexander – who played 37 games for the Warriors in their first two seasons – says that the growing influence of the Warriors and the exposure of the under-20s competition are attracting the best talent to rugby league.
The result is a national team that has accounted for the current world champions in three successive Tests and who give every indication that they will only get better ahead of the 2017 World Cup.
Coach Stephen Kearney's gamble to blood six debutants in the corresponding Anzac Test 12 months ago drew criticism from some quarters but after going down 30-18 to the Kangaroos on that occasion have won their past five Tests on the trot.
"The Kiwis' rise to the top may have come as a surprise to many but it hasn’t shocked me," Alexander says in Big League. "The Warriors have been in the competition for 20 years now and that has to flow through.
"No club has benefited like they have from the introduction of the Holden Cup which is huge over there. The kids playing school footy – whether it’s league or union – aspire to play in the under-20s because it’s televised.
"Roger Tuivasa-Sheck is a perfect example. He’s one of a number of young Kiwis coming through that otherwise would have been lost to the 15-man game. Now we’re taking some of those players back.
"Roger, along with their entire spine, was outstanding [against the Kangaroos] and the reality is they’ll all be there beyond the next World Cup.
"When you’re bringing as many talented players through into the NRL as the Warriors it’s only natural that some will become very good and very capable internationals."
The flip-side to the emergence of the Kiwis is the doubts being raised over the age of some of the greatest Kangaroos to ever pull on the green and gold jersey.
Prior to the opening game of last year's Four Nations tournament the Kangaroos had lost just one of their previous 26 Tests but Alexander said that Australia must find a way to regenerate their squad ahead of the next World Cup.
"You’d imagine the Kangaroos side will have a vastly different look when it takes to the field in a year from now, let alone at the 2017 World Cup," said Alexander. "Two-and-a-half years is a long time for a 32-year-old.
"Cameron Smith, Corey Parker and Johnathan Thurston were very good on Sunday, and the majority of the older crew have played a crucial role in the Kangaroos’ dominance. There comes a time for change, and it’s upon Australia, but it’s important that the rollover in personnel is gradual, as bringing a whole new team of rookies together for the first time could make them like lambs to the slaughter.
"There will be some who won’t get through until the end of 2017. From there it’s just a matter of correctly working out who will still be around and who won’t."
The Round 9 issue of Big League is on sale now at newsagents and at the ground. Digital version is available through Zinio.